Today I had an important conversation with my instructional director. My professional focus for growth this year has been to really hone my assessment skills. I have begun to use more techniques to check for understanding, I have begun to break down my teaching into manageable goals and I have really begun to take seriously the idea that if my kids fail, it’s a true reflection on me as a teacher. I have developed an assessment system that helps me track individual student progress–all 300 of ‘em (no blog post for that one yet).So now I have come to the part of my journey where I am working on turning those observations into a grade.
Grades have always irked me somewhere deep inside. I never felt that they really told a parent what their child was doing in my class or gave them a snapshot of the amazing projects they were doing. I also felt that my students often cared more about the grade than what we were doing. “Is this going to be graded?” They’d ask. Or ” My mom doesn’t care about what I get in Technology. She only cares about reading and math.” As a result, I barely talk about grades in my class. I don’t say “if you don’t do it, you’ll get a zero.” Or, “Remember, this is part of your grade.” I talk in terms of expectations, what I want to see them do, what they are learning, why they are learning it and I provide them with enough choice to make what their doing (hopefully) personally meaningful.
Yet, my gradebook stares at me every day and begs to be completed.
See, I have no problem with assessing kids–I am constantly formally and informally assessing my students. I also have no problem with evaluation. My 5th and 6th graders have been evaluating each other’s videos these past 2 weeks to prepare for revisions. What I can’t seem to wrap my head around is turning my notes and assessments into a letter, number or check mark. I’d rather tell a student that they have mastered using the fill tool in a drawing program than give them 20 points for the day.
To which I responded:
It is a great question. For all of my grading practices, I think I DO have a grading philosophy.
- I believe that if my students fail, it means that I failed in some way.
- I believe that behavior should not be part of a content area grade, though it can be evaluated separately.
- I believe that independent work should be meaningful, of high quality, tied to a standard/objective and play a part in a larger concept or project (not busywork or seat work)
- I believe that my students need real feedback, not grades
- I believe that parents deserve to know more about their child’s progress than an “A” or a number
- I believe that assessments should reflect what students know, not their participation
- I believe that sometimes we cannot be 100% sure of what a student knows until they’ve been given a chance to apply it, so evaluation may not occur right away
I had a wonderful chat with Russ Goerend about the grading principles at his school and he gave me some wonderful ideas. His school bases all assessments on standards, objectives and benchmarks. Seems normal, except that his students ‘defend’ their learning by explaining why and how they understand the standard. He got my brain juices flowing.
Since I teach in a computer lab, I base my curriculum on ISTE’s NETS for Students. All of my projects and activities are based around these standards and goals. I hope to begin pulling together a rubric for each of the standards I want my students to master and then have them either write a blog post explaining how they have mastered the standard or create a video or podcast (for younger students or students who may require accommodations). Then I can share the work with parents.
If I need to provide a grade, then I can create a rubric for each standard and base student evaluations on their mastery of a particular standard on their report card rather than on individual assignments. I’m still not sure how different that would be than giving a grade, but I’m still figuring that out.
For now I will make my philosophy work within the existing practices.
Who knows, I may change my mind tomorrow!
What are your thoughts?
Also, please take the time to check out Pernille Ripp’s grading post: So How’s This Whole Grading Thing Going?